you're a Democrat looking for a catchy slogan to bash George W.
Bush at the 100-day mark in his presidency.
What do you
come up with? "George W. Bush: Poisoning our air and water"?
"George W. Bush: Tool of the special interests"? "George
W. Bush: A guy with lots of rich friends"?
at the Democratic National Committee were looking for a pithy phrase
that would say all of those things without actually saying them.
So after much research and brainstorming, they called reporters
to DNC headquarters on Tuesday to unveil the winning motto: "George
W. Bush. It's not what he's done. It's what he's undone." The
phrase will be the theme of a coordinated series of attacks on the
president in coming days.
The new campaign
marks a turning point in Democratic strategy. In recent days the
party has scored points by nagging Bush on environmental and public-safety
issues—arsenic in the water, carbon dioxide in the air, ergonomics
at work. But now Democrats want to portray the administration's
decisions not as bad policy but as corruption. In each area, they
said, the president took positions not on legitimate policy grounds
but because he had made corrupt quid-pro-quo deals with his biggest
campaign contributors. "No one's taken a look at the money
compared to the policy," said one DNC official.
In the briefing,
Democrats pointed to the case of Tom Kuhn, an old friend of Bush's
who heads the Edison Electric Institute. The Institute lobbies for
the electric-power industry and has contributed generously to the
Republican party. DNC officials accused Bush of going back on a
campaign pledge to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions as a payback
to Kuhn for his industry's large contributions. And they claimed
that during his first 100 days in office, Bush has done the same
thing with other contributors from other businesses. "It's
a pretty compelling story," said one DNC official, "even
if you don't buy all of our spin."
It may be hard
to buy any of it. On carbon dioxide, for example, the Democrats
relied on a Newsweek story from last month that did not mention
the very large Bush contributors — Kenneth Lay, chief executive
of Enron, comes to mind — who opposed the president's decision.
Why would Bush disappoint such a big donor? And which Bush contributor
put up big bucks for the arsenic decision? And besides, can the
party of Bill Clinton and Terry McAuliffe credibly criticize anyone
on the issue of campaign contributions?
the end of the meeting, McAuliffe dropped in for an on-the-record
chat. He's working hard, traveling a lot, giving a lot of speeches.
And things are looking good. "People are scared to death out
there," McAuliffe said. "They don't like more arsenic
in the water, they don't want more CO2 in the air, they don't want
an irresponsible tax cut." McAuliffe predicted Democratic victories
in four races this year mayoral contests in New York and
Los Angeles, and gubernatorial runs in Virginia and New Jersey —
which he said will pave the way for more wins in 2002.
As the meeting
ended, DNC officials handed out an inch-thick book of press clips
and accusations chronicling the first 100 days. In the end, perhaps
the most impressive thing about their effort was the sheer quantity
of it all. Under McAuliffe's leadership, the DNC now has a Clinton-style
permanent war room, churning out spin on a 24/7 basis. "This
is not a one-time deal," McAuliffe said. "It's a new day
at the DNC. We're much more aggressive. We've tripled the size of
our communications division, we've tripled the size of our research
division." (In contrast, the Republican National Committee
has pared down its research operation.) McAuliffe's accusations
may be shaky, but he's deadly serious about pursuing them—and Republicans
who ignore him will do so at their own peril.